Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Earth Girl - Janet Edwards Review

(Yes, ironically the only day I have enough time off to write a blog post is Christmas Day. Also, while I hate to post 2 five-star reviews in a row, the books I've been reading lately are just so good I can't help it.)

Earth Girl - Janet Edwards
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Published: August 16th, 2012
Rating: 5*
Pages: 358
Source: Borrowed ARC

Synopsis: A sensational YA science fiction debut from an exciting new British author. Jarra is stuck on Earth while the rest of humanity portals around the universe. But can she prove to the norms that she’s more than just an Earth Girl?

2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. While everyone else portals between worlds, 18-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Sent to Earth at birth to save her life, she has been abandoned by her parents. She can’t travel to other worlds, but she can watch their vids, and she knows all the jokes they make. She’s an ‘ape’, a ‘throwback’, but this is one ape girl who won’t give in.

Jarra invents a fake background for herself – as a normal child of Military parents – and joins a class of norms that is on Earth to excavate the ruins of the old cities. When an ancient skyscraper collapses, burying another research team, Jarra’s role in their rescue puts her in the spotlight. No hiding at back of class now. To make life more complicated, she finds herself falling in love with one of her classmates – a norm from another planet. Somehow, she has to keep the deception going.

A freak solar storm strikes the atmosphere, and the class is ordered to portal off-world for safety – no problem for a real child of military parents, but fatal for Jarra. The storm is so bad that the crews of the orbiting solar arrays have to escape to planet below: the first landing from space in 600 years. And one is on collision course with their shelter.

                                                                                                * * * * *                                                                                                          

I knew I'd like Earth Girl from the start. The title and gorgeous cover of the ARC copy certainly helped, as did a recommendation I'd seen in KISS magazine, but I think it was the blurb - the first paragraph of the synopsis above - that got me. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before. I mean, I've read books about space and I've read plenty of futuristic YA, but the way this presented was just brilliantly original and catchy. 

An interesting part of Earth Girl was its focus on history. Most of the futuristic YAs have seen - well, they do world-build, of course, but Earth Girl was different in that we were given this neatly described future and then the main character, Jarra, was actually interested in the past; so we get to live vicariously through her as she learns. Interestingly, right now (i.e. the 2,000-2300s) was referred to as prehistory, and that was the time she was interested in studying. 

That led me on to probably my favourite thing about the book. Jarra is such a well-rounded, fleshed-out character. She's a great example of character-driven action. She applies to University Asgard - you know, the one everyone says she can't get into - because she wants to. The plot elements don't just happen to her - she drives most of the things that affect her. Plus, she has her own ambitions and wow is she driven.  I don't think I've read of a YA heroine who wants to become a historian before. 

And okay, maybe she is a bit of a Mary Sue with her mad skillz and talent at everything she puts her mind to, but her personality is flawed so I think it balances out. And her personality flaws are realistic - I can easily understand her anger and frustration when the rest of the galaxy sees her as handicapped. 

The supporting characters were well done too. I think Janet Edwards used them to overturn bucketloads of high-school tropes, with people defying stereotypes (for better or for worse). Jarra and love interest Fian develop such an interesting (non-romantic) relationship from the start since she's tag leader and he's tag support, so he has the responsibility of swinging her out of danger on excavation sites. It wasn't handled in a damsel-in-distress way at all either. 

The plot alone would probably merit a 3.5* rating as it's not perfect, but instead of solely sci-fi adventure we also get a lot of self-discovery for Jarra. Like seriously, her character arc is brilliant, and I think it comes from all the choices she has to make and the fact that she faces consequences decently. 

Finally, Earth Girl was great fun to read. I must have genuinely laughed out loud at least 20 times throughout - the author has a great wit and it shows through in her characters. The book just flowed and - although I didn't read it very fast - was just so enjoyable. What a debut - highly recommended. 

P.S. I am very surprised that there's a sequel, but I'll get it and see what it's like. Also, warning, there are quite  few rude jokes. Nothing graphic though, and the futuristic slang helps disguise it.  And okay, the creationism bit was stupid (when is creationism ever not?) but it was only one line, ignore it. I wish I had time to go into detail on the world-building and colonising other planets. Just trust me, it's fab. 

Favourite Quote: 
"My immune system can't survive anywhere other than Earth. I'm in prison, and it's a life sentence." - Pretty good summary of Jarra's feelings. 

''We were adults, we were free, and we were scared.'' - Ooh, soundbite. Coming of age, duh.

Bye for now, and Merry Christmas!